Releasing a demo for an upcoming JRPG can be a double-edged sword; potentially dulling the reflection of an otherwise bright and expansive adventure, and limiting the character progression systems that hook a player into long and quiet weekends. Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) and Level -5’s (Rogue Galaxy, White Knight Chronicles) recently released PlayStation Network demo bathes in a much more positive light, delivering two segments of the full experience that demonstrate a subtle glimpse into the magical and heart-warming world of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

No matter which scenario you pick, the demo gives you twenty-five minutes of play time in each, allowing you to explore the beautiful overworld at your leisure, or rush to the boss fights awaiting you in either chapter.  This is more than enough time to get accustomed to the battle system and gawp at the stunning visuals finely crafted by Level-5 and Studio Ghibli.

Beautiful environments make exploration a pleasure.

Beautiful environments make exploration a pleasure.

Oliver’s character model inherits the delicate and distinctive art that Studio Ghibli is known for, and he—along with the rest of the cast—is rendered beautifully in real-time at the hands of Level-5. Witnessing the small ripples of water as you stroll through the woodland, or glaring at the daunting shadows and fiery lighting of a lava pit below your feet during a desparate mountain climb; these are moments that exhibit a promising future come January 25th, where fans can enter a Ghibli world come to life.

Not everything is executed this well, however. Voice acting is sub-par for the English dubbing, but the option to pick the original Japanese voiceover will alleviate this issue for most. At least in the demo, the real problem lies within the minute-by-minute storytelling. It looks like a lot of the dialogue will feature no voices at all, reducing some cutscenes to still images. Whether or not this is a factor unique to the demo, we cannot say, but it would be unfortunate if such a grand art-style was neutered by a mostly voiceless narrative.

Fiery combat against one of the demo's largest boss encounters.

Fiery combat against one of the demo’s largest boss encounters.

The meat and potatoes of your experience throughout the demo will be found in the game’s battles. Using a real-time system based on cooldowns and attack durations, Ni No Kuni’s combat is incredibly hands-on. You have the ability to control Oliver, the Familiars that aid him in battle or his friend Esther at anytime during the fight—switching between them and capitalizing on their unique abilities when necessary. This allows you to avoid an incoming melee strike and quickly throw a fireball, or perhaps retreat and use an item to heal you and your allies.

At any point during the exchange, the enemy can launch a long-range attack that will require a defensive stance to mitigate the damage. Every option you make will see a small coodown after usage, and this keeps battles tactical and intense throughout. This strategic element is enhanced, as the demo hints at a robust levelling system with unlockable abilities and a wide variety of Familiars to use throughout the game.

Admittedly, the smaller monsters presented little challenge, even if they caught you off guard with a type of “pre-emptive strike”. But picking the appropriate Familiar will yield better results across all encounters, becoming a pivotal role in Ni No Kuni’s boss fights.

A huge overworld acts as a great playground to explore and level up.

A huge overworld acts as a great playground to explore and level up.

Between the gorgeous exploration of the huge overworld and the fast-paced battles of the Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch demo, the final release is becoming one of our most anticipated titles of next year. November 17th, 2011, marked the day of an exciting collaboration between two of Japan’s best known studios across anime and gaming.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch will be available throughout America and Europe on January 25th, 2013, exclusively on the PlayStation 3. Be sure to check back on BagoGames for the full review.

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